Drug abuse with people sharing the same syringe
Photo licensed via Adobe Stock

Wealth & Poverty Review No, Safe Injection Sites Aren’t Safe

Originally published at Substack

Tuesday New York City opened two safe injection sites in a bid to prevent overdose deaths, which have skyrocketed in America.

Here’s why it’s a bad idea.

First, it is a mistake to signal that engaging in risky self-destructive behavior can be safe.

Second, Naloxone is available and it does save lives.

Third, as New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an order to postpone hospital elective surgeries, there are better uses of medical personnel.

Long-time readers know that I have been highly critical of the war on drugs, the over-incarceration of nonviolent offenders in the federal system and have been a long-time supporter of legalizing (not decriminalizing) marijuana. I do not support setting up a government program to subsidize drug addiction.

In 1997 as a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, I spent a day at a needle exchange program in The Mission and saw how an idea, anathema to many conservatives, was a plus for the community.

The program prevented users from sharing needles and spreading HIV. Junkies saw medical professionals who checked patients’ sores, examined rashes, hand out vitamins, and administer flue shots and pregnancy tests.

What’s more, and this is important, law-abiding taxpayers got something from the program as users saved their used needles to exchange them for new ones. A side effect of the program was a reduction of needle litter.

Except San Francisco then changed its needle-exchange to “needle-access,” I learned in 2015 when I followed police as they dealt with homeless San Franciscans. In the name of harm reduction, the city was handing out needles to users who did not have to produce used needles in exchange.

No wonder I had been seeing used needles in alleys and on sidewalks. Users could shoot up, toss used syringes on the sidewalk and still get clean, free needles. The one aspect of the program that benefitted non-users was, like needles, disposable.

The safeguards that were supposed to get the general community to support the program were discarded to accommodate street squalor when taxpayers weren’t paying attention.

Do we see a pattern here?

I went to a nearby needle-access facility and picked up my starter kit of needles, as I wrote here.

Please watch the video above. It features a young man, Kai Adame, who bemoans a lack of knowledge among users as to how Naloxone can save lives, and how ignorance leads to unnecessary deaths. Sadly, the young man died of an overdose. Maybe spreading the word that there is a magic bullet to prevent overdose deaths is a temporary fix fueled by magical thinking.

During COVID, beltway types on the left have voiced utter contempt for Americans who refuse to get vaccinated. (For the record, I am vaccinated and boosted.) Some want to punish the unvaccinated by firing them, and some want to deny treatment for those who will not submit to the shot.

At the same time, they embrace programs that encourage self-destructive behavior that utterly degrades communities and eats up health-care funds.

Better to direct social workers and police to steer users into programs that provide treatment, shelter and health care, and better to distribute Naloxone for first responders.

Debra J. Saunders

Fellow, Chapman Center for Citizenship Leadership
A fellow with Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership, Debra J. Saunders worked for more than thirty years covering politics on the ground and in Washington, as well as American culture, the news media, the criminal justice system, and dubious trends in public schools and prestigious universities. Her column is nationally syndicated with Creators Syndicate.